Saturday, August 21, 2010

Will and No Grace

The other day, my mother rang me very early in the morning.

Which worried me as she usually only rings when she’s coming to visit.

“We have a lot of house-guests right now, Mother,” I said automatically the moment I heard that dangerously honeyed voice on the line.

“That’s nice, dear,” she said, “but I am just ringing to let you know that your father and I are changing our wills. We’re leaving all our money to the poor orphans in Africa!”

As my sister Michelle later said, it’s just so typical of our parents to spring that kind of nasty surprise on us just as we’re barely awake. “More to the point,” she added in heavy tones, “would someone please tell me what you, Jack and I will be when they die and leave us nothing, if not poor orphans? Does she not get the irony?”

“You are all grown up now and making a good living on your own,” Mother said. “You don’t need our money!”

“That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” Michelle replied with some heat. “What makes a complete stranger in Africa more deserving than me? They don’t even know our parents! In fact, they never had to grow up with Mother always taunting them about their weight and boyfriend issues! The way I see it, that inheritance is compensation for all those years of mental abuse! And anyway,” my sister went on, “does anyone seriously think that an accountant makes any money these days? This is so incredibly depressing!”

That’s the thing about money: you can never have too much of it. And no matter how rich you are, you’re always haunted by the suspicion that you might be happier if you had just a little bit more. Invariably, too, it’s always the wealthy folk like my parents who say that it’s much better to live simple lives that are poor in material things, but rich in spiritual fulfilment.

To which Michelle replied that you can’t pay for a Gucci bag with spiritual fulfilment. “I’ve always thought that I was adopted. Now I know,” she announced on Facebook.

My flatmate Saffy doesn’t believe that my parents will leave us nothing.

“Your parents have been saying that for years. And anyway, what about all that real estate?” she asked. “Surely, an African orphan will have no need for an apartment in London?”

“Apparently, the rental from one month could feed an entire village for a year,” I said.

“If you ate beans for a year, maybe, but how fair is that on you, the villagers or the air quality above the village?” Saffy asked, clearly reliving the time she went on a bean diet and spent an entire week tortured by thunderous, foul smelling farts.

Amanda thinks that we should take out an injunction against our parents. “I’m sure giving all your money to someone else’s children has got to constitute some kind of child abuse,” she said firmly.

“I am not suing my parents!” I said. “How embarrassing would that be?”

“I wouldn’t rule out that option,” Michelle threatened by e-mail.

Meanwhile, my mother finally tracked down our brother Jack who is currently on a yoga retreat in Bhutan. Immediately after, he called me to say that he was so disturbed by the news that he sprained his ankle while doing a downward dog. “I know I’m supposed to be zen-like and all that crap, but seriously, I can’t help but feel a lot of resentment towards those poor orphaned kids.”

Then a few days ago, Mother called again and said that she and Father had been thinking it over and perhaps they’d been a little too hasty in their testamentary gifts. “Maybe we won’t give everything to the African orphans,” she said smoothly. “By the time we die, Madonna would probably have adopted them all, and I just read somewhere that she’s got more money than God, so they won’t be needing our money!”

“Maybe when your parents die, Madonna could adopt you!” Saffy suggested brightly. “You’d be an orphan and you’d be poor. You might have to spend a bit more time in the sun though.”

I’m almost at a point that I no longer care. I’ve gone from severe shock to anger to depression and now, I’m just about resigned to my fate of dying a poor, homeless writer. Saffy and Amanda say that I’ll always have a room with them. Even when I can no longer afford the rent. I don’t know whether to be relieved or even more depressed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Displeasures of the table

Diets are strange things. It makes normally sensible people do things that if, properly fed, they would never dream of doing. Like drink wheatgrass juice, for instance. Which bright spark watched a cow slowly munch its way through a field and thought to himself, “Hmm, I wonder if I could turn this stuff into a drink and convince people to pay to drink it?”

Well, you know the answer to that one. These days, even your humble kopitiam drinks store sells wheatgrass juice when the much yummier sugar cane juice is ignored.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if the stuff actually tasted good. But it doesn’t. It just tastes as if someone grabbed a bunch of grass from some padang, mulched it up with some water and charged you $5 for a tiny shot.

“It’s really good for you!” Saffy said to me the other day at a hotel cafe as she tried to convince me to drink the stuff.

“I’m not drinking something that cows eat!” I said.

Saffy’s bosom heaved pneumatically. “Oh, it’s not that kind of grass, it’s a…it’s a special kind of grass from…from somewhere!” she said vaguely. “Drink it, it’s really good for you!”

How is it good for me?” I asked belligerently.

“It’s very cleansing and detoxing!” she said, sounding very much like a commercial for a facial wash. “You know how cows poo all the time? It’s the exact same thing!”

I told her that she really needed to work on her sales pitch, got up and walked off.

Later that night at dinner, it was all Saffy could talk about.

“You are such a…such a man!” she said triumphantly, trotting out her worst insult. “It was just wheatgrass juice and you should have seen him run for the hills, Amanda! It’s no wonder men don’t give birth. We’d all be dead!” she added ominously.

“Are you sure that stuff works?” Amanda said, helping herself to a serving of beef rendang from our favourite hawker down the road. “It sure sounds like a complete scam!”

“It’s amazing,” Saffy insisted. “Next to fried beehoon, it’s the only thing that keeps me regular. And let me tell you that the results are spectacular!”

“Please, I’m eating!” I complained.

“But why are you drinking it?” Amanda asked.

“It’s my new diet!”

Amanda and I both rolled our eyes. Diets are to Saffy what oxygen is to the rest of it. But whereas most people cut out food items when they’re on a diet, Saffy draws emotional and physical sustenance from the fact that she’s ingesting only food of a certain kind.

Once she ate only steak but gave that up within a week when she realized that she couldn’t afford sirloin for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Atkins Diet kept her fully occupied for two weeks until the exhausting job of keeping track of what she could and couldn’t eat, and in which portions, defeated even her singular focus.

And then there was the time she embarked on a diet that comprised entirely of cabbage soup and nothing else. She kept us all awake with her thunderous farts which, in turn, killed all the house plants.

“What’s different about this one, then?” I asked.

“It’s based on wheatgrass juice, lots of protein and plenty of vegetables! It’s amazing. I found it on the internet. I’ve lost two grams since I started!”

Amanda turned to me and said, “What’s amazing is that she could actually say that without the slightest sense of embarrassment.”

I snorted into my rice.

“So why,” Amanda went on, “if you’re trying to lose weight, are we having this nasi padang meal?”

“What! It’s beef ! Which is high in protein!”

“But there are no vegetables!”

Saffy looked surprised. “Sure there are,” she said. “It’s got chilli in it! What! Chillis are vegetables!”

And so, we’re now on day three of Saffy’s wheatgrass, protein and vegetable diet. She says she’s lost a hundred grams, though Amanda says that’s probably just from all the cardio activity from the number of times Saffy steps on and off the bathroom scales.

This morning, I walked into the kitchen and caught her spooning a big heap of sugar into her wheatgrass juice.

“What!” she said, immediately going on the offensive. “It’s too bitter. It actually tastes green! The sugar just takes the edge off it! It’s allowed. Sugar’s carbs and I’m allowed to have some carbs! You’re all so judgmental!”

Amanda is giving the whole thing a week, tops. “Seriously, I just wish people wouldn’t fall for these silly fad diets. The only way to lose weight is to have a regular herbal tea colonic irrigation!”

Monday, August 09, 2010

Tea and Sympathy

My flatmate Amanda believes women who say that it’s much better to be single and single than to be married and unhappy are big fat liars.

“Those cannot be the only two options!” she insisted recently after coming home from a tearful afternoon tea where she comforted her friend Marlene who’s just broken up with her husband of two years.

Apparently, the news was unexpected (Marlene and Doug had just bought a new home and an ice-cream maker) and it was delivered between the finger sandwiches and the scones.

Turns out that Doug has been having a fling with the wife of his boss and a few nights ago, he declared to Marlene that he was leaving her for “Trudy”.

“He can’t leave me for someone named ‘Trudy’!” Marlene is said to have shouted in the middle of the Regent hotel. But Amanda said the kicker came when Marlene then vented that she wished she’d never met Doug and never gotten married.

“I’d rather have been single!” Marlene declared, to which Amanda automatically replied, “Choy, choy, choy!”

“No, seriously, at least I would have been happy!” Marlene sobbed into her smoked salmon sandwich. “No one deserves to hurt like this!”

The verdict haunted Amanda so much that after the tea, she headed straight to Chanel and bought herself a bag, but even that sacred activity didn’t cheer her up. So she tried again at Louis Vuitton. By the time she walked out of Diane von Furstenberg, she felt a little better, but by then, she was haunted by a new thought.

“I refuse to believe that she’s right!” she told us back at home, her feet drawn up around her on the bed.

“Does this come in another colour?” Saffy asked as she inspected her reflection in the mirror while clutching this season’s Chanel tote-bag.

“Not all men are scum. They just take a bit of finding, that’s all!” Amanda went on, hugging her pillow for moral support.

“I really like this leather, but I’m not sure about the chain.”

“Marlene is talking pure nonsense! I’ve seen plenty of happy relationships. Plenty! My parents! They’re happy. Now that they’re sleeping in separate bedrooms…” Amanda trailed off.

“I do like the fact that Chanel always has these little pockets in their bags, you can fit in all your lipsticks and handphones and...what? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Saffy sighed and turned away from the mirror to face Amanda.

“I’m listening! I can multi-task, you know!” she said and sat down by the bed. “Look, I happen to think Marlene is right.”

Amanda looked shocked. “She is not right! She’s a big fat liar!”

Saffy bosom shifted slowly and she looked at Amanda with unaccustomed softness. “You know how you always fantasized about what you were going to be when you grew up? I always knew I was going to be a movie star. Just knew it in my bones, just as I knew I was going to marry Johnny Depp.”

Amanda sat up. “Johnny Depp? Really? He’s so scruffy though.”

“Oh, he’s totally hot in a nerdy way!” Saffy’s bosom inflated with lust. “I can’t tell you how devastated I was when he got involved with that Vanessa cow and had kids with her. My point is I’ve recently had to come to terms with the fact that short of a meteor hitting Hollywood and wiping out everyone from Meryl Streep to Sylvester Stallone, I’m never going to be a movie star. Which means that I’m also never going to marry Johnny Depp!” Saffy concluded and sat back with deep satisfaction while stroking the Chanel bag in a way that Amanda later said was very creepy.

“What’s your point, Saf?” I asked after a long moment’s silence as Amanda and I struggled to connect the dots.

Saffy looked at us as if we were each a marble short of a full set. “My point is that not all our dreams will come true and the sooner we get it, the better. Marlene obviously got the point.”

“That Doug is a douche-bag?”

“No! That, chances are, we’re either going to be in an unhappy relationship with someone who will probably break our heart, or,” Saffy sucked in breath, “we’re going to be alone for the rest of our lives!”

Choy!” Amanda yelled. “Those can’t be the only options!”

“You better get used to it, Amanda,” Saffy said as she got up from the bed and walked out still clutching the handbag. “You can’t pick and choose to suit yourself. Life isn’t like a Chanel store, you know.”

Monday, August 02, 2010

Shop Talk

If it’s one thing that gets up my goat, it’s shop assistants who think they’re God’s gift to humanity. And before the National Shop Assistants Guild gets all upset with me and sends me a long indignant letter – like this lady who got really riled with my recent story about vegetarians – let me quickly clarify that I’m talking about a select group of shop assistants.

I am not, for instance, talking about the nice folks at Isetan and Giordano. Or the lovely uncle down in my corner supermarket who always asks what I’ve been up to whenever he sees me. And to Saffy, he asks who she’s been up to, a question that never fails to send her into peals of hysterical laughter.

“He’s so cute!” she said once, to which Amanda said that ‘cute’ was not a word she would use to describe a 72-year old man whose habitual form of dress was a pair of dirty shorts and a Pagoda-brand singlet.

No, the shop assistants that I have an issue with are invariably dressed in head to toe black outfits from the designer shop that they work at. No names, of course, will be mentioned, but they know who they are.

“And they don’t even look good in those clothes!” Saffy huffed once, after being given the Look by one particularly rude assistant.

Do you know the Look? It’s that pitying glance that they give you when you walk into the shop. It’s a look that says, “I know you can’t afford anything in this shop, so I don’t think I want to serve you. Please don’t make eye-contact with me. I’m busy arranging the key-chains in this drawer.”

And while you walked in with every intention of buying something, you’re so disgusted with the Look that you decide to just torment them.

This pimply guy once followed me around the Gucci store, watching me with a beady eye as if I was a potential shop-lifter. Every time I touched something, he swooped in after me to rearrange and tidy up.

I fingered a shirt. “That’s made from cotton,” he told me in the kind of tone that, if this was a foreign language film, would also have said in subtitles, “Are you sure you’re in the right shop?”

I turned to him and focused on the pimple on his right cheek. “Yes, I know. But what sort of cotton is it?”

He hesitated, and you could tell that he knew he’d picked the wrong person to be rude to. “It’s 100% cotton!” he said finally.

“Yes, but is it Egyptian?”

By this time, even his pimple was turning red from embarrassment.

Then there was this one time I was getting a shirt made at this fancy shirt shop that my family has been going to for years. I’d grown sick of my wardrobe and decided to start the coming new year with new clothes. So there I was discussing fabric and collar styles with this auntie shop assistant when someone walked into the shop. She looked up, brightened and said to me, “Ah, excuse me, hor. I get my colleague to look after you. One of my important customer just come in!”

And with that, she scuttled off towards a fat American man, her Singlish accent suddenly turning into a Deep South drawl as she approached him. (And before the Fat American Men Association writes me an irate letter, let me just say that I’m not being derogatory. He was a man, he was American, and he was fat.)

Recently, Amanda was shopping for a bag at Bottega Venetta. She looked around for help. Six shop assistants milled around chatting about their lunch plans while Amanda tried to get someone’s attention. Finally, one reluctantly walked towards her.

“No more stock,” she said to Amanda’s question.

“Do you have the model X, then?” Amanda asked.

The assistant looked at her blankly.

“It’s from the new Autumn/Winter collection. It was just shown in Milan.”

As Amanda later said, it was clear as daylight that she knew more about the stock in the shop than the assistant did.

“I’m not sure,” the woman replied, looking really bored, and before Amanda could ask a follow up question, the assistant literally yelled across the floor, “Hey, you! Come serve customer! I have to go makan!"

Amanda walked out the store, her wallet still heavy with the $2000 that she had been itching to spend all afternoon. She called up her remisier and bought OUB shares instead.

This must be what they mean when they say it’s ‘Your Singapore’.